The day I was told to fall into line


PARTING SHOT: I see myself as relatively naive. There have been occasions in my life where I’ve fallen for a good story, been taken advantage of - all because I want to believe people are fundamentally good.

Once, on the streets of Venice, I gave a woman with a terrible American accent 10 Euros for a cab. She said she’d lost her purse. I’ll pay you back, she said. Please do, I pleaded - because if you don’t I’ll lose my faith in humanity.

There turned out to be two lies - she never paid me back and I never stopped seeing the best in people.

The irony is that to be good at my job I have to be inherently cynical. It goes beyond probing questions. I have to expect people to be deceptive - and that with more digging I’ll find a news hook.

When you do this for long enough, you develop a good sense of “smell” for a rat.

In this way I play a role - a pretty important one, some might say, as the eyes and ears of the community.

Other people see my role differently.

I was shocked by one situation last year. Maybe I should have seen it coming - this town, after all, works like any other.

Anyway, while socialising after a particular function I was firmly told the power brokers in town had decided a convention centre was the best thing for the community and, as the local paper, I was expected to fall into line and support it.

Gobsmacked, I didn’t respond at the time. I am now.

Some people in town would prefer this paper not only to take a view of the convention centre but take a positive one.

That’s not our role. Yes, on occasions we might take a stand on something that’s important to the community.

But given Dunedin’s financial issues with Forsyth Barr Stadium it would be a bold (or foolish) paper to swing in behind a possible white elephant.

The stadium debate should have taught everyone to keep the salt handy when picking through financial forecasts - and pay particular attention to over-egged assumptions.

This newspaper will faithfully report both sides of the debate, including the opposition. That means taking an unpopular line with the establishment, sometimes.

One such occasion was last weekend, no doubt, when I reported the long-term costs of the convention centre and associated Lakeview development, estimated at more than $140 million, is giving business owners some pause.

(The figure includes interest repayments, but doesn’t take into account the council gets any money back from carving up Lakeview for commercial development.)

But I’m not dismissive of those in public office and in positions of responsibility. I assume they’re playing a role too.

They’re probably rising above their own personality quirks to do what they think is best for the town.

I respect that. I realise they might take an unpopular stand in the name of “progress”.

My message is this: don’t be naive enough to bark at a newspaper editor and expect him to roll over.

What I want this paper to do is inform people and get them talking.

It’s up to the individual to break out of their apathy and tell the establishment what they think. 

FOOTNOTE: Funding for the convention centre is included in the council’s 10-year plan. To make a submission email: The deadline for submissions is this Wednesday.